Today’s entry for The Forge is based upon a correspondence between me and an old friend over the idea of exactly how much of a game can and should be programmed (pre-designed), how much should be flexible and open to ad hoc manipulation, and what the consequences of these conflicting deign principles really mean.
Of course in tabletop and role play games (non-electronic versions) the ad hoc and “open” elements are much easier to develop and fully exploit in comparison to exactly how much of a computer or electronic or video game must be pre-programmed. But in my opinion the ultimate goal even of computer and video and even virtual reality games is not just to mimic or emulate open choice, but to actually develop program parameters than allow a sort of “open interface” with the gaming world in the same way that an individual can interact with the Real World. That is to say game should not merely simulate “open choice and open exploration” they should actually provide it.
And since today’s entry is for the Forge I also briefly discuss the Design and operational Tools I call the Terra Incognito and Esoteric Distribution Principles, as well as Hard and Soft Backgrounds/Milieus.
Since all games are programmed (to some extent) I think that it is very unusual for most game designers (who think in a programmed fashion- that is they try to project onto the game the same basic methods of thought which they themselves use for the logical design of the game) to attempt to program into the game the elements you described.
When maps are drawn and given to the player they are almost invariably accurate.
Why, most all game designers think, give a player an inaccurate map as that will only anger him and look shoddy, as if it were the fault of the game designer, as if it were a bug. Most players have become conditioned to think in exactly this same fashion as regards games. They see that something does not function properly and they automatically assume it is a bug. But much of life is exactly that- Terra Incognito, you get no real map to most things in life, especially things you have never encountered before and it is ridiculous to assume that any map you ever receive will be absolutely accurate. As a matter of fact much information we receive and much education is similarly either erroneous or at the least tainted by bias, or by ignorance or by mistake, intentional or unintentional.
Then you have to consider that often times things we receive as information from any particular source may also be purposely misleading.
Therefore if a game is to mimic life in many respects it has to incorporate this “unknown and unexpected” territory and it must also incorporate intentional deceit. For instance in many games i have played when one receives informant information it is just assumed to be accurate or truthful. This is not the way real informant information works. It is partially correct, partially misleading, purposely misleading, it is second or third hand information, it is misinterpreted, or disinformation, etc… Games should reflect this. As a matter of fact this puts me to the mind to create all sorts of intentional bug parameters that reflect real life, not randomness, but actual error. Error that is reflective of living error.
So I’m gonna incorporate both aspects into my game designs. The unknown, uncharted, unmapped or incorrectly mapped territories, of whatever kind I’m gonna call the Terra Incognito principal. The other, the misleading or incomplete information principle I think I’m gonna call
the Esoteric Distribution principle.
Both principles will function as a sort of basic background of functionality, that a game, like life itself is not just about the data but the quality and nature of that data and how accurately that data reflects upon the overall gaming environment. Then the player, like a living person, will have to determine not only the gaming parameters, but the functional parameters and whether any information received is of any actual value, whether it is valid or invalid.
I suspect that current principles only exist because they are reflective of the basically mathematical mindset of software and game designers.
That is perfectly appropriate for the development of a Hard Background, or environment in a game, but it is completely superficial and childlike in naivete as regards a Soft, or Human, Background. Soft Backgrounds are full of error, deceit, and ignorance. Unlike present games, soft backgrounds fail to function properly, or one could say function in error about as often as they function successfully and accurately. Soft Backgrounds are not just mere isolated plot devices, but should be a vital and ongoing principle of making any game or skill simulation function correctly.
TALISFAR THE BARD – for background on how Talisfar was developed see this post
Talisfar – Talisfar is a Half-Elven Bard. He grew up as an orphan in a monastery but upon reaching the age of 16 he chafed at the strictly regimented life among the monks and decided to strike out on his own. So one night, not long after his 16th birthday, he ran away from the monastery and travelled for a while doing odd jobs. As a result of this aimless meandering he got the nickname of Wendle (the Wandering One).
Eventually he met up with an old Skald named Verestön who travelled from place to place performing for minor nobility. Talisfar became Verestön’s assistant until the age of almost twenty at which time he had been trained as an apprentice Bard. Talisfar then went off on his own and for a short period of time also earned his living as a Skald performing for minor nobility but he eventually began composing his own poems and lays and writing them down as he had learned to read and write at the monastery.
At the age of 21 Talisfar become nostalgic and went back to the monastery where he was raised but by that time the old monk who had previously been Abbot was dead. Nonetheless several of the other monks recognized him and he stayed two more years with the monks learning religious and choir songs, chant, composing poetry, and learning the healing arts from the monks.
One night the monks rescued a wounded, lordless knight who had been nearly killed in a nearby skirmish. Talisfar helped doctor him back to health and as result they became good friends. So at the age of almost 24 Talisfar left the monastery again to squire for this lordless knight, named Oscaré, and became a wandering adventurer in the knight’s employ. They travelled and adventured together for approximately two years until Oscaré was killed while on guard one night by a poisoned arrow in the neck, possibly murdered by an old enemy named Sebelien.
Talisfar has now become a solo adventurer (though he is not averse to joining a group of like-minded companions) who wanders the land seeking wealth and fame as both an explorer of dangerous ruins and a well-respected poet and songmaster. He is older for a beginning solo adventurer (though he often wandered alone as a boy), being by now 27 years of age, but he is well versed in many forms of music, song, and verse (from romantic and personal works to religious and choral works), he is a very adept healer and physician, and he is very good at single combat having squired for and fought alongside Oscaré for nearly two years. He is also fluent in several different languages, having learned them to master the songs, poetry, and music of various peoples.
Talisfar does not dress as a typical Bard but wears very plain, non-descript workman’s clothing that is all very dark green in color. While wandering on his own as a Bard Talisfar often introduced himself to the nobles he performed for as the Greene Wendler (the Green Wanderer) and this has become shortened to another nickname, Greenwend. So, depending upon who Talisfar is speaking with and how much he trusts them he will often introduce himself as Talisfar, Wendle, or Greenwend. In addition, when needed, Talisfar has adopted several other names as aliases, usually ones taken from his dead companions, such as Verestön, Oscaré, Folles (his former Abbot), or Yarmuse (his dead father’s name).
In personality Talisfar is very loyal to those he befriends. He is also of keen mind and very observant. He has a superb memory, being able to mesmerize and then recite new songs and poems and musical scores almost overnight or by a single hearing. He can speak, read, and write in several different languages. He gets along very well with most people, being by nature relaxed and easy-going. When angered, however, he can hold long grudges and can be quite dangerous.
He lives simply, almost aesthetically. He will feast and dine and drink in company or while performing, if this is expected of him, but otherwise he is very spartan in both dress and behavior. He is athletic and charming and women often admire him and seek his favors but he has of yet formed no permanent attachments and never been in love or sought to be in love, though he is an excellent troubadour and minstrel on the subject of love. Though he forms deep attachments with the few friends he has ever had he is at heart a wandering and restless loner.
He is very generous and although he seeks to be famous as a Bard and wants to be a wealthy and powerful person he is neither attached to nor in love with money. He sees money merely as a tool and a path towards his aims.
Being an orphan from a young age (he lost both his parents to plague at the age of 6) he has always felt alone and unattached even when well cared for by others, such as the monks who raised and educated him. Nevertheless Talisfar still feels (maybe because he was an orphan he especially feels) great loyalty towards and gratitude for those who helped raise, educate, and train him, such as the monks, the skald Verestön, and the knight Oscaré.
Talisfar is very idealistic and takes it very personally if someone he knows or has befriended is harmed or killed. He feels it is his personal responsibility to defend and save those he has befriended and those who have befriended him. He is of an independent and self-reliant nature but he would never abandon a friend in need.
His most obvious flaws are that he will often overlook or excuse bad behavior in his friends and companions because they are his friends and companions, and his long obsessive quest to seek vengeance against the murderer of Oscaré. Even though there is little actual proof that Oscaré was murdered by his old enemy Sebelien, Talisfar is certainly convinced this is the case and has spent much time and treasure in an attempt to track down and enact vengeance against Sebelien as the suspected killer of his friend.
As a result of this obsessive vendetta Talisfar will often place both himself and innocent others in great danger in an attempt to achieve such vengeance, and eliminate the killer of his friend Oscaré.